What are expanders and what do they do?

An expander is an orthodontic appliance that is custom-fit to the patient’s mouth. It is either bonded with cement to the posterior upper teeth or removable. They have a screw in the middle that activates the appliance when tightened. The generated force separates the two palatal bones at their midline (also known as the maxillary suture), the fibers that hold the two segments together get stretched and overtime they are filled in with new bone.

Generally, the patient (or parent in some cases) must turn the screw 1-2 times every other day for as long as your dentist instructs you. During this time, your dentist will want to see the patient regularly to ensure that the appliance is working as it should. Once the activation period passes, the appliance is kept in the mouth for up to 3 months to allow the new bone to fill in at the midline, helping to maintain the expanded dental arch.

Why is it important?

Palatal expansion is an important preliminary treatment procedure because it enlarges the maxillary dental arch and the palate (roof of the mouth). An expander may be indicated when the upper jaw is too narrow in comparison to the lower jaw. When a jaw is too narrow, it limits air flow in the nasal cavity, which is above the palate. The expansion can help correct this issue. Widening the jaw can also help with the issue of crowded teeth as it creates more room.

A narrow jaw will not remedy itself over time, which is why it is highly important to do this procedure while your child is an adolescent, once they have already gone through puberty and their growth spurt, it is not effective.

What happens during the tightening (activation) process?

As the appliance is tightened over the duration of the procedure, it is possible to feel:

  • Mild pressure in the palate
  • Temporary discomfort for 30 minutes
  • Mild pressure in the nasal bones and possible headaches (rare)

If there is pain and discomfort that involves having to take a pain killer, stop tightening the appliance immediately. You can even turn it in the opposite motion to slightly loosen it for the time-being. You must contact your dental professional since this procedure is not supposed to be painful. They will check to make sure that everything is okay and advise you on what to do next.

Make an appointment with us today to have your child examined for any necessary orthodontic work. It can save a lot of time, pain and hassle in the long run for both you and for your child!